NASA's Ingenuity helicopter flew with a 'foreign' piece of debris attached to its foot

The helicopter has been scouting the red planet for over a year.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.
An artist's impression of NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.


NASA's Ingenuity helicopter went from being a proof of concept for off-world flight to becoming a fully-fledged aerial scout for NASA's Perseverance mission.

The helicopter was initially only expected to fly about five times — proving humans could perform a controlled flight in Mars' thin atmosphere — but it took off for the 33rd time on September 24 for a short repositioning flight.

The helicopter wasn't alone, as per a blog post from NASA. Images from the chopper show a flowing debris object, resembling a piece of a plastic bag, for part of its journey.

NASA's Ingenuity navigation camera captures a "foreign debris object"

The Ingenuity helicopter's navigation camera picked up the piece of debris for part of the flight. The camera, which is positioned on the bottom of the rotorcraft, typically shows part of one of Ingenuity's four feet during the flight.

The official term for the piece of debris is "foreign debris objects," or FOD. It seems to have either fallen off during the flight or gone out of view of the camera after a while.

While NASA hasn't confirmed what the piece of debris might be, the Perseverance rover has previously captured images of debris left over from the mission's violent landing. In a tweet, NASA announced that it was "looking into a bit of debris that ended up on Ingenuity's foot during its latest aerial commute." It added that "it eventually came off and did not impact a successful Flight 33."

NASA's historic Perseverance mission

In its blog post, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, "all telemetry from the flight and a post-flight search and transfer are nominal and show no indication of vehicle damage." The space agency will likely eventually provide an update on what it believes the debris to be.

Ingenuity is currently performing aerial scout missions around the Jezero Crater. It is helping to guide the Perseverance rover on its mission to find signs of microbial life on Mars and deposit them for future missions to bring back to Earth.

The Jezero Crater is an ancient dried-out lake bed on Mars, and the Perseverance missions have been investigating a dried river delta attached to the lake in recent weeks and months. Last month, NASA announced it had collected a sample that included organic molecules. On April 19 last year, NASA made history by performing the first-ever off-world flight using its Ingenuity helicopter.

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